The day after their season ended, the disappointment and frustration felt by Colorado Avalanche fans last night after the team’s Game 7 loss to the San Jose Sharks has been replaced by positive vibes and good feelings. There’s a lot of talk about Colorado’s “bright future” and “the best is yet to come.”
That all sounds good, and it certainly is a nice salve on the fresh wound that is getting bounced from the postseason, but that doesn’t make it true. Just because people who support the team, from the folks in the stands to those calling the games on radio and TV, say the Avs are trending upward doesn’t necessarily mean they are; in fact, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the franchise is stagnant.
Yes, Colorado went further in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs than they did a year ago. This time around, they got out of the first round, advancing past the Calgary Flames before losing to San Jose. Last year, the Avs were knocked out by the Nashville Predators in the opening round. So it’s true, they did advance one step further in 2018-19.
Other than that, however, there really isn’t much evidence that the Avalanche are improving. In fact, there are several signs that they essentially plateaued:
>> Last season, Colorado posted a 43-30-9 record, tallying 95 points in the process. This year, they were 38-30-14, slipping to 90 points.
>> In 2017-18, the Avalanche clinched the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference with a win in their 82nd and final game of the season. This year, they earned the exact same seed with a win in their 81st game.
>> A year ago, Nathan MacKinnon was a finalist for the Hart Trophy after scoring 39 goals and recording 97 points. This season, he scored 41 goals and tallied 99 points, but failed to be included among the three players in the running for the league’s most valuable player award because his scoring wasn’t as timely and didn’t make as much of an impact. Also last season, Jared Bednar was nominated for the Jack Adams Award; he wasn’t considered this year.
On all three fronts, the Avs are treading water, if not backsliding a bit. And there isn’t really much reason to think they’ll take a drastic step forward in 2019-20.
This season, Colorado finished with nearly $9 million of available cap space, according to Spotrac.com. That was the seventh-highest total in the NHL. The Avs head into next season with the lowest amount of money committed to their roster in the entire league, which gives them plenty of room to make moves. But is there any evidence that they’ll put that money to use in a big way?
Other than acquiring Philipp Grubauer, who made $3,350,000 this past season, they’d didn’t make any splashy moves after last season’s surprise playoff appearance. If Colorado didn’t try to build upon that momentum, what’s to suggest they’ll treat this offseason any differently?
Yes, they have available money to spend. And admittedly, adding an All-Star or two to a young core that was within one game of reaching the Western Conference Finals seems like it should be a no-brainer decision.
But the spin will be that Joe Sakic wants to keep the group he built together to see how far they can go. That’s why the Avs will spend big to retain their own restricted free agents, including Sven Andrighetto, J.T. Compher, Alexander Kerfoot, Mikko Rantanen and Nikita Zadorov. Keeping those players will cost a lot of money, burning through the available cap space in a hurry.
In addition, murmurs will start to surface that the Avalanche have to save for the future, when re-signing Tyson Barrie, Sam Girard, Gabriel Landeskog and Grubauer in the coming offseasons will be on the radar. Leaving room for those hefty contracts will be an excuse for not spending as much as possible this year.
Instead, the Avs will count on their core group, Cale Makar taking the next step and adding two more first-round picks in June. In other words, they’ll largely be the same team next season that just lost to the Sharks.
That same group didn’t take a step forward from 2017-18 to 2018-19. So what will make 2019-20 any different?
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